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The Difference between Type I Trauma and Type II Trauma

The Difference between Type I Trauma and Type II Trauma

Trauma is a word that’s used quite liberally in everyday language, typically to identify a highly stressful event. When we refer to trauma in the clinical sense, we’re referring to an event that has completely overwhelmed an individual’s capacity to cope and this, of course, is entirely defined by the survivor. Some examples include types of childhood trauma and abuse, types of psychological trauma, natural disasters, bullying, community violence, and more.

What Influences Someone’s Response to Trauma?

Two people can experience the same traumatic event and one may be left severely psychologically traumatized while the other is relatively unharmed. Several factors influence an individual’s response to trauma. Many different events can cause a post-traumatic stress response and various aspects of the event can compound the impact of the traumatic event, including the duration and frequency as well as the nature of the event.  

Generally, traumatic experiences that are prolonged, repeated, and purposely inflicted by people cause the most severe psychological effects. Regarding the duration and frequency, the term Type I trauma is used to identify a single incident trauma whereas Type II trauma, or chronic trauma, denotes a trauma that’s prolonged and repeated. Additionally, the term complex trauma is used to categorize prolonged and repeated trauma that only occurs in some type of captivity (not necessarily physical), where a person is subjected to systematic methods of coercive control by the perpetrator who assumes control. Examples include domestic violence, concentration camps, cults, organized sexual exploitation, types of childhood trauma, and other types of psychological trauma.

Symptoms of Type I Trauma

The distinction between Type I and Type II trauma is essential as the type of trauma should define the treatment approach. As trauma psychiatrist Judith Herman noted, post-trauma responses should be understood as a spectrum of conditions rather than as a single disorder. The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that’s described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) is more reflective of the post-traumatic response inflicted by Type I trauma. Type I trauma symptoms include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in mood, and changes in physical/emotional reactions. Of course, the specific Type I trauma symptoms experienced differ by individual.

Additionally, there are five main PTSD trauma types including:

  • Normal stress response

  • Acute stress disorder

  • Uncomplicated PTSD

  • Complex PTSD

  • Comorbid PTSD

Symptoms of Type II Trauma

Those with Type II trauma, or chronic trauma, typically have additional symptoms like dissociation, self-mutilation, addiction, paranoia, and physical symptoms. As with Type I trauma, the specific Type II trauma symptoms experienced differ by individual. Importantly, as clinical presentations differ significantly based on type of trauma, so does the appropriate treatment approach. Those with Type I trauma are most effectively treated with exposure-based trauma therapy types like prolonged exposure therapy (PET), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

The most effective treatment for individuals with Type II trauma is a three-phase approach that begins with interventions targeting safety, stabilization, and improved functioning in day-to-day life. Once this is achieved, exposure-based therapy is appropriate.  Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from Type II trauma or complex PTSD are often misdiagnosed and don’t receive effective and comprehensive treatment. This unfortunate trend points to the importance of seeking out a qualified trauma therapist who can accurately diagnose and create an individualized treatment plan.

How Does Lifeskills South Florida Treat Trauma?

At Lifeskills, we treat the full continuum of post-traumatic stress responses, including both simple and complex PTSD.  Each client is individually assessed, treatment plans are customized, and trauma therapy types are chosen to address their needs. We offer trauma tracks where clients have a space to safely process issues related to their traumatic experiences. These groups also offer psychoeducation regarding trauma and its effects as well as concrete skills to help clients cope with the debilitating aftereffects of trauma including flashbacks, nightmares, and dissociation.  Additionally, the treatment team at Lifeskills includes specially trained clinicians who provide targeted trauma treatment, including prolonged exposure therapy (PET), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

To learn more about our trauma treatment programs, call us today at 833.484.1655 or complete our contact form.


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